Thoughts on Shopping and Lost History

This afternoon I was reading Elizabeth McNeill’s Nine and a Half Weeks, and of course I found the depiction of her relationship fascinating, but something else that struck me was her description of the various shops she and her lover visit on the weekends. The book takes place in the mid-1970s, and they go to all sorts of (generally high-end) businesses, most of which no longer exist.

I’ve thought about this before in thinking about how cities and towns change (when I lived in DeKalb, Illinois, the only business in photographs from thirty years ago that was still around was the town’s adult bookstore), and every time I think about it, it makes me a little sad, and it fills me with questions. What happened to these businesses and the people who ran them? Did they retire and simply close the business, feeling satisfied that it had run its course? Did the shifting economy claim the store as a victim, leaving its proprietors bereft? My guess is that this was primarily the case with the various department stores which McNeill names.

Change is inevitable, but the amount of history that gets lost as the memory of all of these mostly small shops fades is terrifying. The human element of our purchases often gets forgotten in light of the excitement surrounding the objects that we’ve bought. Thinking about this is a good reminder for me of the importance of shopping at local businesses rather than at faceless chain stores.

Published by danielshankcruz

I grew up in New York City and lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Goshen, Indiana; DeKalb, Illinois; and Salt Lake City, Utah before coming to Utica, New York. My mother’s family is Swiss-German Mennonite (i.e., it’s an ethnicity, not necessarily a theological persuasion) and my father’s family is Puerto Rican. I have a Ph.D. in English and currently teach at Utica College. I have also taught at Northern Illinois University and Westminster College in Salt Lake City. My teaching and scholarship are motivated by a passion for social justice, which is why my research focuses on the literature of oppressed groups, especially LGBT persons and people of color. While I primarily read and write about fiction, I am also a devoted reader of poetry because, as William Carlos Williams writes, “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet [people] die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” Thinkers who influence me include Marina Abramovic, Kathy Acker, Di Brandt, Ana Castillo, Samuel R. Delany, Percival Everett, Essex Hemphill, Jane Jacobs, Walt Whitman, and the New York School of poets. I am also fond of queer Mennonite writers such as Stephen Beachy, Jan Guenther Braun, Lynnette Dueck/D’anna, and Casey Plett. In my free time I’m either reading, writing the occasional poem, playing board games (especially Scrabble, backgammon, and chess), watching sports (Let’s Go, Mets!), or cooking (curries, stews, roasts…).

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